SOCHI, Russia -- Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov's controversial comments about Roma have been criticized by Romany leaders and human rights activists, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.
Pakhomov has repeated recently that Roma and homeless people, who he said have recently arrived in large numbers in Sochi, should be forced to work at the city's construction sites as was done during the Soviet era.
Pakhomov said at a meeting of the Black Sea city's municipal administration last week that if Roma and homeless people are "worked around the clock," then their "desire to come to our city in droves will disappear."
Nadezhda Demetr, the vice president of the Prague-based International Romani Union, told RFE/RL that the comments are shocking and that it's "hard to comprehend that an official at such a [high] level could talk like that...[and still] be a mayor."
Journalist Dmitry Shusharin says that "Romaphobia" in Russia is widespread and therefore Pakhomov's anti-Roma statements will not be condemned.
He added that human rights in Russia are for all groups of people, including the homeless, and that Pakhomov's statements violate the law.
Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow office of the Bureau for Human Rights, told RFE/RL that although bias against Roma is very common in Russia and many Eastern European countries, xenophobic statements are not expected from high-ranking officials.
He said Pakhomov should publicly apologize to Russia's Romany community.
Pakhomov, 49, won a controversial election in April 2008 as the candidate of the ruling United Russia party.